Gluten-free pasta started out humbly enough: I saw that white rice was ground to a flour and shaped into slightly mushy versions of penne rigate. Then I saw a box of quinoa pasta, and then chickpea pasta made an appearance. Now, every time I walk through the grocery store it feels like there's another gluten-free pasta available.
While all of these pastas can be rounded up and categorized into "gluten-free pastas," I learned after a very starchy taste test of 7 popular gluten-free pastas (chickpea pasta, red lentil pasta, black bean pasta, quinoa pasta, corn pasta, white rice pasta, and brown rice pasta) that each variation tastes incredibly different—and takes to different sauces in different ways. Here's what to use these gluten-free pastas for, and what we liked—and didn't—about each variation:
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Our Gluten-Free Pasta Test Taste
Photo by James Ransom
Chickpea Pasta (Banza): This pasta started out promisingly. As soon as I put the chickpea pasta into the pan, it sunk to the bottom and formed a line across the center of the pot. When I fished a few chickpea soldiers out at five minutes, they were still chewy, but another couple of minutes did the trick.
Verdict: If undercooked, pasta retains its shape very well and doesn’t stick together once plated and dried—if cooked even a moment too long, it turns to mush in the pot or the colander. Unfortunately, it leaves a distinct chickpea aftertaste, and once chewed, it’s difficult to differentiate the pasta from a mouthful of chickpeas... but, more chewy. It’s not such a strong flavor that it would overpower a flavorful pasta sauce, but it will be hard to ignore if you’re making a simple aglio e olio.
Recommended cook time: 7 minutes, 30 seconds
Try it With:
Nigel Slater's Really Good Spaghetti Bolognese
Nigel Slater's Really Good Spaghetti Bolognese. A hearty meat sauce is robust enough that you probably won’t even be able to taste chickpeas pasta’s nutty flavor. Don’t forget to top it with plenty of good Parmesan cheese.
Chickpea Fettuccine with Harissa, Kale, and Olives
Chickpea Fettuccine with Harissa, Kale, and Olives. This recipe was actually developed with chickpea pasta in mind, so it’s best to lean in. Spicy harissa and briny olives pair surprisingly well with the pasta (not so odd though, as they pair great with regular chickpeas!)
Red Lentil Pasta (Tolerant Foods): Made with just red lentil flour (no other stabilizers, unlike a number of the other gluten-free pastas on the market,) this one is high-fiber and protein (11 and 25 grams per 3.5-ounce serving respectively)
Verdict: This one tasted mostly neutral, and while it didn't taste like a pasta made with grains, it was enjoyable in terms of texture.
Recommended cook time: 7-9 minutes
Try it With:
Pasta with Gorgonzola, Radicchio, Walnuts, and Orange. With bitter radicchio, sweet orange, and funky-cream cheese, once again, your pasta accompaniments will distract from the fact that this pasta is made with lentils, not wheat.
Pasta with Gorgonzola, Radicchio, Walnuts, and Orange
Black Bean Pasta (Explore Cuisine): Though I assumed they'd be made with the same black beans I use in burritos, it appears that most pastas labeled "black bean" are in fact made from black soybeans, like this one (which also has black sesame flour, presumably for color and additional nutty flavor.) It becomes abundantly clear when tasting gluten-free pastas, particularly those made from legumes and not grains, that you shouldn't enter into the experience thinking they will taste like wheat pasta. Legume pastas, like black bean, red lentil, and chickpea), are their own experience, and should be treated as such.
Verdict: A bit nutty and dense, this pasta definitely tastes like it's rich in protein (23 grams in 2 ounces!). The flavor didn't wow me, but I'd eat it again if I found myself with a box.
Recommended cook time: 6-8 minutes.
Try it With:
Spaghetti With Charred Scallion Sauce
Spaghetti With Charred Scallion Sauce This pasta didn't go great with red sauce, but would do fairly well here, in an "extremely untraditional riff on the Italian aglio e olio," where scallions replace garlic—I'd add a big spoonful of chili crisp as well.
Photo by James Ransom
All-Quinoa Pasta (Pereg): Many quinoa pastas, like the one listed above, contain corn as the first ingredient, but this brand lists whole-grain quinoa flour at the top of its list (followed by potato starch, egg white, and vegetable oil). Once in the water, it cooked extremely quickly (roughly 5 and a half minutes to 6 minutes, at most).
Verdict: While I’m impressed with the extremely quick cook time and liked the flavor—it tastes exactly like quinoa and has that same grainy earthiness, which was fine except that I couldn’t get past the texture. It disintegrates almost as soon as you start chewing. I don’t think I would make these again because if I ever craved them, I would just make quinoa.
Recommended cook time: 6 minutes, at most
Try it With:
Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce With Onion & Butter
Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce With Onion & Butter. With a mild-tasting quinoa pasta, it’s best to stick with a classic, like Marcella Hazan's tomato, onion, and butter sauce, which is rich and deeply flavorful.
Quinoa with Corn Flour (Ancient Harvest): The instructions on the back called for a 6 to 9 minute cook time and warned me, “DO NOT OVERCOOK” so I set my alarm for 5 minutes... and then 9 minutes... and then 10, at which point they were still almost inedible. (Almost immediately, the water became so murky that I couldn’t see the pasta.) By 12 minutes, they were done and extremely mushy. Once I took them out, I saw that they had left a film on the entire pan that I had to scrub to get off.
Verdict: These are extremely delicate and taste much more like corn than they do quinoa—almost like a corn tortilla that’s been dipped in water, which is kind of fun to eat in pasta form, but I'd definitely prefer it in chip form. On the plus side, they held their shape when chewed.
Recommended cook time: 11 to 12 minutes
Try it With:
Cavatappi with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Brie & Arugula
Cavatappi with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Brie & Arugula. Leaning into strong flavors is the best way to complement quinoa pasta. Toss the pasta in oily, tangy-sweet sun-dried tomatoes, squidgy brie, peppery arugula. For a bit of extra smoke, add some chopped bacon if you have any on hand.
All-cap warnings marked nearly all of the bags of pasta (NOT MUSHY and DO NOT OVERCOOK)
Corn and Rice Flour (Barilla): The instructions recommend to salt the pasta water well to help with flavor, but that otherwise this pasta should be a seamless replacement for wheat. I had high hopes, and wasn't disappointed.
Verdict: This pasta is very mild in flavor, which, considering some of the others, actually turned out to be a good thing. It has a fairly sturdy texture as well, making it ideal for standing up to thick sauces.
Recommended cook time: 7 minutes.
Try it With:
Caroline Choe's Kimchi Mac & Cheese
Caroline Choe's Kimchi Mac & Cheese. Spicy, creamy kimchi mac & cheese brings richness and bold flavor, which helps bring this mild corn pasta to life.
Photo by Bobbi Lin
Brown Rice (Tinkyáda): At 12 minutes, this pasta took slightly more time to cook than the other gluten-free pastas, and as soon as I took it out, it was extremely slimy—so much so that I couldn't grab one noodle—but that luckily wore off as it dried!
Verdict: This pasta looks the most like regular, gluten-graced pasta, but the difference becomes immediately evident as you eat it—it doesn’t taste like anything, and it squeaked as I chewed, which was off-putting.
Recommended cook time: 12 minutes
Try it with:
Our Best Basil Pesto
Our Best Basil Pesto. Slick brown rice pasta in a classic, creamy basil and parmesan cheese-based pesto with plenty of olive oil. For a little extra protein, add sliced sausage or a can of white beans.
Kale Pesto Orecchiette
Kale Pesto Orecchiette. For a more nutrient-dense (and absolutely stunning green), nut-free pesto to go with your nutty brown rice pasta, try this kale version, extra-tangy thanks to a hit of Dijon mustard.
White Rice (Melotti): As soon as I put the pasta into the pot, it started to boil over, so the cooking process required a bit of vigilance.
Verdict: It tastes like a mushed-together ball of sticky rice, which was not extremely appealing—if given the option, I would prefer to just eat white rice. Or even an actual ball of mushed-together sticky rice. It also had a slightly slimy feel to it.
*Recommended cook time: 11 to 12 minutes
Try it with:
Best Fettuccine Alfredo
Best Alfredo Fettuccini.For a classic creamy pasta (perhaps to remind you that even though you’re eating white rice pasta, you don’t have to skip the cream and cheese—preferably a 50/50 blend of Parmesan and Pecorino Romano.)
Vegan Cauliflower Alfredo Bake
Vegan Cauliflower Alfredo Bake. For any of those vegan and gluten-free folks out there (we see you! we hear you!), look no further than this cauliflower alfredo bake, which you could definitely make with brown rice pasta, but also any of the above gluten-free pastas
Photo by Alpha Smoot
Cut to the Chase:
Best shape-retention: Brown Rice
Best flavor: Red Lentil and Corn-Quinoa
Best look: Corn-Brown Rice
Best overall: It depends on what you’re cooking and what your flavor preferences are! But we would pick a tie between the red lentil and corn-brown rice.
What are some of your favorite gluten-free pasta options and pairings? Tell us in the comments below!